Like local history? This homegrown app brings Toronto facts to your fingertips

Driftscape is a homegrown app that can show you the history of Toronto's many landmarks, streets and neighbourhoods.

Driftscape app meshes mapping software with content from historical sites and cultural groups

The Driftscape app is available Nov 21 for iPhones and eventually Android. (Driftscape)

Picture walking around Toronto; downtown, midtown, North York, Scarborough or the waterfront, just to name a few areas. 

You get a notification on your phone as you stand on a street corner. You pull it out of your pocket and you're served a helping of history about that very intersection.

It might be a fun fact about a building you're next to or a link to an audio tour of the indigenous history of the patch of land you're standing on.

That's what the Driftscape will do for the curious, which is a lot of us, if you ask the app's co-creator Chloe Doesburg.

"The desire seems to be huge and the amount of fantastic content also seems huge," she told CBC Toronto. "We started Driftscape to bridge that gap. 

Facts beyond plaques

"The more you know about the place that you live, the more you can appreciate it, be critical of it, and potentially add to it," said Matthew Blackett, publisher and editor of the Toronto-based urbanist magazine Spacing

Spacing is one of 19 content contributors to Driftscape.
Each colour-coded marker will pinpoint areas of cultural or historical significance uploaded by a contributor. (Driftscape)

There are approximately 700 pins on the city map for users to stumble upon. At least 50 of them were uploaded by Spacing as part of their 50 Objects that Define Toronto series. 

"The one I think people will be most surprised about is Pablum," said Blackett.

Still produced today, the infant cereal was invented by doctors at the Hospital for Sick Children in 1930, at a time when infant malnutrition was a problem.

Blackett says this is an example of where Driftscape content goes beyond what's written on old metal historical plaques outside our landmarks. 

Telling Toronto's story

The Toronto Public Library, the Toronto Historical Association and specialized groups like Queerstory and First Story Toronto have also uploaded content of cultural significance in the form of video, images and write-ups. 

You can't tell one Toronto story that's true for everyone.- Chloe Doesburg, Driftscape co-creator 

The Driftscape map will be dotted with pin markers identifying where the information comes from and the corresponding topic. 

For example, yellow pins with the compass logo of First Story Toronto will link users to information on the Indigenous significance of an area. 

One pin marker by the Don River links to an audio tour.

A rainbow-coloured pin will mark a factoid from Queerstory. 

"We have a couple locations of the bathhouse raids of 1981," said Michael Alstad, project lead of the LGBT history website. "And then we also have [Toronto Police] 52 Division on Dundas Street where a huge demonstration happened after the raids. 

If you open Driftscape near the corner of Richmond Street and Yonge Street you can read all about the old Saphire Tavern where gender-queer singer Jackie Shane would perform. 

"This predated 1969 when it was still technically illegal to be queer," said Alstad. 

Each marker will open more information about your location through articles, video or audio. (Driftscape)
Clicking on the rainbow pin there will play a video about Jackie Shane and play his music from that era. 

The idea that users can toggle from topic to topic, era to era is Alstad's favourite part of contributing to Driftscape.

"There's so many of these parallel histories," he said. 

It's taken two years to develop the app and creator Doesburg says this is just the first phase.  She and her team, based in Toronto and Waterloo, want to keep adding to the tapestry of pins and facts. 

"Driftscape created a place where these stories can be layered on each other," she said. 

"You can't tell one Toronto story that's true for everyone."